Intermittent spring flooding of agricultural fields will increase net global-warming potential of greenhouse gas fluxes

Thursday, 18 December 2014
Robert F Paul1, Eoghan M Smyth2, Candice M Smith2, Ilsa B Kantola3, Alexander Krichels1, Wendy H Yang1 and Evan H DeLucia4, (1)University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, Urbana, IL, United States, (2)University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, Energy Biosciences Institute, Urbana, IL, United States, (3)University of Illinois, Urbana, IL, United States, (4)Energy Biosciences Institute, University of Illinois, Urbana, IL, United States
The U.S. Corn Belt is currently a net source of carbon dioxide and nitrous dioxide to the atmosphere but is also a weak sink for methane. Climate change is projected to increase the frequency and duration of spring precipitation in the North American Midwest, resulting in intermittent flooding and ponding in agricultural fields. Inundation changes the greenhouse gas (GHG) fluxes of the soil, especially by promoting methanogenesis under anoxic conditions. DNA and 16S cDNA sequencing results of earlier, similar experiments confirmed the presence of methanogens in soil samples, albeit in low abundance (representing <0.01% of reads per sample). We installed collars into bare ground of a central Illinois research field to experiment with flooding conditions and observe changes in gas fluxes, microbial community, and soil chemistry. We established three treatments of five replicates—control, continuously flooded, and intermittently flooded—each with separate collars for gas flux measurements, soil sample collection, and soil probe measurements. A drip irrigation system flooded the headspaces of the collars to produce flooding events. The continuously flooded collars were maintained in a flooded condition for the duration of the experiment, and the intermittently flooded collars were flooded for 72 hours per flooding event and then kept dry for at least 5 days before the next flooding event. We measured net concentrations of N2O, CH4, and CO2 in situ using a static chamber connected to a cavity ringdown spectrometer. We found that the periodicity of wetting and drying events induces hysteresis effects that push GHG shifts to occur rapidly (< 1 hr). Integrating fluxes across the period of the experiment, the intermittently flooded collars showed 88.7% higher global-warming potential of GHG fluxes at the 100-year horizon versus control, with most of change driven by increased net CO2 flux (87.1% higher) and net methane flux (29 times higher). These data indicate that more frequent flooding and ponding events will have a significant impact of increasing the soil GHG emissions from the U.S. Corn Belt region.